TAVERNER, John

(c. 1495-1545)
John Taverner was considered the greatest English composer during the first decades of the reign of Henry VIII.* Little is known about his early life, al­though he may have been born in Lincolnshire, where he was a fellow of Tat-tershall College before his 1526 appointment as choirmaster and organist at Cardinal College, Oxford, founded the preceding year by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. In his second year Taverner became involved in an underground Lutheran study group and was briefly imprisoned when Protestant books were found in his possession. Unlike the scholars arrested at the same time, Taverner was quickly released and spent two more years at Oxford. John Foxe's* Acts and Monuments (1563) notes Taverner's imprisonment for the Protestant faith and claims that the composer repented for having made "Popish" songs before this time. Taverner left Oxford in 1530 after Wolsey alienated the king by refusing to seek an annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon and his col­lege began to fail. Taverner's location for the following six years is unknown, but his last eight years were spent in Boston, Lincolnshire. In Boston he married a widow with two daughters; Rose Parrowe may have been his second wife, as he had been involved in marriage negotiations in 1525. Taverner became a member and eventually the treasurer of the Gild of Corpus Christi, which main­tained a chapel in the town. A few months before his death in 1545, he became an alderman of Boston. Taverner continued to demonstrate Protestant tendencies: he was employed by Thomas Cromwell to look into the local friaries and re­ported that he had publicly burned a large, ornate cross, presumably as a symbol of his opposition to "idolatry." Taverner also expressed sympathetic concern for the poverty of friars and promised them any aid they required. The only major English composer of the sixteenth century to embrace Protestant doctrine, Tav­erner wrote in both traditional modes (such as the elaborate Western Wynde) and in the new, simple style preferred by Protestants (such as his Playn Song Mass).
Bibliography
C. Hand, John Taverner: His Life and Music, 1978.
Jean Graham

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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